TO walk successfully from Bridge Head, to Upper Iweka, in Onitsha, any time in the night is to achieve a feat. This is especially so if the person is carrying personal belongings or money. Not many are able to achieve that these days, no thanks to the marauding gangs of criminals, both petty and big time, who have rendered the once safe axis very unsafe for everybody.
Two weeks ago, a business man and his apprentice had just got off a vehicle around 10 pm at the Bridge Head area. There were four young men huddled together a little distance from where the business man got down from the bus. Ordinarily, the scenario would not have raised eyebrows as the young men might just have been cooling off and savouring the cool night air. But no sooner than the business man and his boy got down from the bus than the four young men surrounded them with guns.
The incident is just one of many that have become the lot of those residing or doing business in Anambra State’s biggest commercial enclave. Crime has simply overtaken the city, while the police and other security agencies are quiet, either as a result of incapability to deal with the situation, or because of complicity (or both?)?
Apart from this incident, the entire city of Onitsha has been ravaged by crime. From Bridge Head to Okpoko and to Fegge, men of the underworld appear to have overwhelmed the security agencies. This has resulted in the killing of five police men in the city within the past one year. There was even this story of a police man whose gun was snatched from him as he got down to eat.
To use the pedestrian bridges at night is equally dangerous as the bad boys are usually on the prowl. Uche Amunike of Fides Newspaper, Awka, has lost her phone thrice in Onitsha to these hoodlums. The third occasion was in front of her house when two men on a bike pulled up in front of her and her daughter in broad day light and brandished a gun before taking their phones.
There are notorious areas in the Onitsha metropolis. They include Okpoko, Fegge and Obosi. Obosi’s case beats the imagination as this has been a known dangerous area for many years now, yet the police have allowed things to continue to degenerate there. It was in this place that popular presenter with the Anambra Broadcasting Service, ABS, and deejay, Magic Fingers, was shot late one evening. He managed to escape with his life and ran straight to the Borromeo Hospital where he was promptly admitted.
And then last Monday, the circulation manager of the Sun Newspapers, Fabian Obi, was murdered in cold blood after a gunman entered his office at Old Market Road and pumped him with bullets thrice before taking his money. The killer atop a waiting tricycle or okada.
The leadership of the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ, Southeast Zone, led by Comrade Chris Isiguzo, Vice President, and Ken Ofoma, Secretary, noted thus: ‘We received with shock the news of the killing of a Sun Newspaper agent in Onitsha, Fabian Obi, by unknown gunmen. This is indeed very tragic. For such to happen at a time the military operation code-named “Python Dance 11”, aimed at checking the rising wave of armed robberies, kidnapping and other forms of crimes, is still on, with soldiers virtually in every nook and cranny of the five Southeast states, makes it more troubling.
‘We also want to remind the Anambra State Government that the primary responsibility of a responsible government is the protection of life and property. Abandoning this responsibility, especially at this critical time when the state is preparing for a major election, resulting in the rising wave of insecurity in the state, indeed speaks volumes of the government’s commitment to security of life. Let the needful be done as quickly as possible because a stitch in time saves nine.’
In Awka, the state capital, criminality in the Okpuno area is well documented. One dare not walk the streets at night with personal effects. To do that is to court a slashed arm or a broken head. One recalls that in a session with the immediate past police commissioner in Anambra State on the menace of criminals in these areas, he had taken offence at the question. But this is not an issue to be parried by feigned annoyance. The danger to citizens of the state in these areas is real and needs to be tackled.
Onitsha is central to Anambra’s economy and allowing hoodlums to overrun the place will hurt the state economically. The failure of government and the security agencies to check the spate of crimes in Onitsha may be counter-productive and this is why everything should be done to check the trend.
The Anambra State Government has done well by investing heavily in security.. The police and other agencies should reciprocate by living up to their responsibilities. Anambra may be among the safest states in the country, but Onitsha is turning out to be the unsafest city. And if the crime indices in this city continues to rise unabated, the safest state may not be very safe after all.
Mr. Atupulazi Jude, editor of Fides Newspaper, wrote from Awka, Anambra State.